The early papers are written in German, and some of the people who went on to found Temple Emanuel in Davenport rushed off to fight during the Civil War.
The roots of Reform Judaism run deep in this community, even predating 1861, when the pioneers drew up a charter to formally organize the congregation named B'nai Israel. That makes Temple Emanuel the longest continuously active Jewish congregation in Iowa.
The sanctified ground of Mount Nebo Cemetery, near Kimberly Road in Davenport, was purchased a decade earlier, and an estimated 12 Jewish pioneers were among the first 500 inhabitants of Davenport, according to the temple's
centennial history from 1961.
Those early Jewish settlers came from Europe and were mostly traders, according to records at Temple Emanuel.
This weekend kicks off a 150th anniversary celebration that will culminate in November with a banquet and ceremony to include all living rabbis who served in Davenport. Weekend events are taking place just before Passover begins and will feature Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Also, Temple Emanuel's Rabbi Henry Karp will be recognized for his 25-plus years of service in the community.
The Jewish settlers established a synagogue in 1862 on the third floor of the Forrest Block building at 3rd and Perry streets in downtown Davenport, according to the commemorative booklet published for the 1961 centennial.
Jews in the late 19th century reorganized their faith, and many of the followers at B'nai Israel agreed with the moderate teachings of the Union for Reform Judaism. The period of reorganization included the growth of the Jewish community in Davenport, and the congregation moved to rented quarters in the downtown area.
In 1885, Rabbi Isaac Fall helped lead an effort to build the congregation's first temple, on Ripley Street between 4th and 5th streets in Davenport. Records show that it faced the Scott County Courthouse and was named Temple Emanuel to honor a member's father and because Emanuel means "God is with us."
Having an actual building to call home helped draw Jewish followers from around the region. By 1900, Davenport had about 40,000 residents, among them about 50 Jewish families.
A second Temple Emanuel was built in 1906 at 11th and Brady streets, and that served the congregation through the Great Depression and World War II. E.P. Adler, a civic leader and the longtime publisher of the Davenport Daily Times, a predecessor of the Quad-City Times, helped the congregation through those hard times and had a dream of an even bigger, more modern temple. Preparations began in 1944 when a city block was purchased at 12th Street and Mississippi Avenue.
The current Temple Emanuel was built in 1952-53 for $375,000. There are now 150 families in the congregation.
"It's a magnificent achievement to stay in existence 150 years," Rabbi Henry Karp said. He is the longest-serving religious leader in Temple Emanuel's history. He believes the 150th anniversary is a retelling of the story of the congregation's families and the growth of faith.
The Reform Jewish people of Davenport are "an impressive, committed group, who, through their own deep and profound religious commitment, have kept that congregation in place," said Yoffie, the special guest for this weekend's events.
"I go there with enormous appreciation for what they've done," he added.
The festivities are being organized as a reunion, uniting former members of the congregation with their families who still live in this area, said Robin Kroloff, the president of Temple Emanuel. "We'll look at where we've been and where we are today."
The focus for Jewish communities in places such as Davenport, Yoffie said, is a progressive outlook, with a bent toward taking the lead on many types of social issues.
Karp, for example, has been a leader for several causes in the Quad-Cities, helping those who are hungry, standing up against hate crime, and taking a progressive look at equal rights and social justice matters.
Temple Emanuel has gone through crises and challenges, Karp said, including the 19th-century period when Orthodox Jews decided to embrace more moderate views of the faith in the Reform movement. Rabbi Isaac Fall was Orthodox, Karp explained, but he stayed on for 15 years - through the change in religious philosophy - to oversee the building of the first Temple Emanuel on Ripley Street.
"Many people have worked very hard to establish this congregation," Karp said. "but we are also the beneficiaries of a lot of dedication.
"As we remember 150 years of dedication to the past, we will lay new groundwork for the next 150 years."